Rocky Point Park

A much loved Rhode Island summer destination and chowder and clamcakes tradition. First amusement installed in 1850 and operational for about 140 years.

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

Rocky Point was a mainstay destinations for local families from its early days in the 1920s through its heyday in the 50s and 60s and into its twilight years in the 80s and 90s. Its decrepit and somewhat skeezy nature when I was a kid was part of the charm (though I am sure that I hardly noticed). It felt old and worn in and in some cases worn out but we loved it because it felt like ours.

It became harder and harder to compete with newer parks like Six Flags in Connecticut or parks that constantly upgraded their rides, like Lake Compounce also in Connecticut. The country and region were becoming more affluent, so the bigger theme parks like Disney were also taking a chunk out of Rocky Point’s appeal. The owners over-leveraged the park and its land to fund other ventures. Eventually, bankruptcy was inevitable.

Rocky Point closed in 1994, then reopened briefly in 1996 as a farewell to patrons. In 1996, the park auctioned off many of the major rides. It attempted a “comeback” as the Rocky Point Family Fair with rented rides for the 1996 season, but the crowds were sparse. The Shore Dinner Hall remained open for a year or two after that, and eventually, the buildings and land weren’t used at all.

In June of 2000, a fire broke out in the Dodge-em house, causing some damage to the structures around it. The mayor of Warwick called for the demolition of the remaining structures (including all the midway buildings and the House of Horrors). Another mysterious fire broke out in October, 2006. The abandoned structures proved to be very attractive to vandals.

On May 7, 2007, demolition of the remaining midway officially began with a press conference at the park. Prior to this, a handful of stands and minor buildings had already been demolished.

Current Events

In July, 2003, Rocky Point was sold to the U.S. Small Business Administration for $8.5 million. The agency held the 123-acre property for proposals to redevelop the site into a summer or year round community. Local residents wanted to see a publicly accessible park open to all residents — to once again be able to enjoy the waterfront — instead of proposals to turn the property into a gated community.

In February 2008, the city of Warwick secured a federal grant to purchase about half of the 82 acres remaining Rocky Point Park, including much of the view of the bay. The city officially took title to 41 acres shoreline of the former park in August 2008. On November 2, 2010, a ballot proposal passed to issue state funding to “acquire the title to land in and around what used to be Rocky Point Park to establish the land as a public park.” On March 28, 2013, the sale of the remaining 82 acres of the former amusement park was conveyed to the state of Rhode Island.

On June 26, 2011, Rocky Point was once again opened to the public and features a new asphalt mile long walking path along the shore of Narragansett Bay. The majority of the amusement park space is now an empty field for the passive use park. A few elements of the park remain, including the upper and lower stations for the Skyliner gondola ride, ruins of an old water tank, and a large arch by the entrance that was originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, and subsequently moved to Rocky Point.


History put together from various resources

In the 1840’s, Captain William Winslow began to land his passengers on the land we now refer to as Rocky Point for Sunday outings. By 1847, he had purchased a portion of the land and began to offer amusements and shore dinners “under the trees”.

In 1850 Winslow added the first carousel, swings, and the Spanish Fandango, the forerunner of the Ferris Wheel. The Forrest Casino opens in the 1860s and features traveling entertainment, politicians, and boxing exhibition matches.

Colonel Harrington was the second owner, and billed the park as “New England’s most beautiful amusement park” on an 1918 advertisement. By this time, the rail line provided easier access to the popular spot which featured a Looff Ferris wheel, a circle swing (and a version that swung in the ocean), and a flume type coaster called the Russian Toboggan which was destroyed in the Gale of 1938.

Two hurricanes will wreck havoc on the park, but it survived and was rebuilt. The Great Hurricane of 1938 and Hurricane Carol in 1954. Notwithstanding, the park becomes the most visited attraction in Rhode Island during the 1950s. The Shore Dinner Hall, famous for its clamcakes, steamers, lobsters, and New England clam chowder, seated over 4,000 patrons at a time. The indoor ballroom, the Palladium, was erected in late 50s along with the Windjammer Lounge.

In 1949, Rocky Point was purchased by Vincent Ferla. His brother Conrad becomes general manager. The Ferla family were the last owners of the park. Conrad Ferla, a fixture at the park since he started, riding on his motorbike from one station to another attending to his duties, passed away on October 22, 1996.

Attractions and amusements included a Looff coaster, a tumble-bug, the Wildcat, a Thompson scenic railway, and the interesting Flying Turns in which cars raced through tubes without tracks. These early coasters were replaced by the Cyclone, the saltwater Flume, and the corkscrew in later years. The famous saltwater pool was installed in the 1930s, only to be paved over in the last years of the park. Kiddie Land was where many a Rhode Island child spent some time. Other popular rides included the Skydiver, the 60s themed Musik Express, and the Spider… along with the House of Horrors and the Freefall (which was 13 stories tall and fell at 55 mph).

Personal Anecdote

I went to the park at least once a year in late August/early September, right around the end of summer and maybe even after the first week of school. My family would get day passes because a few of them worked at Electric Boat and there was a company day at the park. That meant I got to ride as many rides as I wanted without tickets and the park was almost empty. More people would line up for the corkscrew, which I thought was a short ride for the wait, so I’d ride the others instead. I often would get off the Skydiver just to get right back on. I once rode it with a buddy of mine 21 times in a row. This was how I experienced the park from age 6 to about 18 (1981 – 1993).

Throughout the 70s, 80s, and early 90s bands would occasionally play the midway. I remember some friends at mine in high school talking about a band they saw at Rocky Point called “The Pixies” and I remember thinking “What a lame name.” To add to the embarrassment, the bands I remember seeing there were Dread Zeppelin and Weird Al Yankovic.